Contributing writer Sarah Pew skipped the traditional, white sandy beach honeymoon for the trip of a lifetime in Africa. The most memorable part of her trip? Participating in a voluntourism excursion, where she had the opportunity to give back to the locals.
“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within us.” –Lillian Smith, Author
Whether it’s donating your money, your time, or material gifts, it’s often difficult to ensure your donation is getting to the people who need it most. But what if you could see, first hand, the difference your efforts are making? Enter Micato Safaris, whose motto is “For every safari sold, we send a child to school.” With that one line, I was hooked. As it turned out, it was also the perfect complement to the commitment my husband and I made on our wedding day a few months prior.
On our honeymoon, there were many moments that won my heart—like watching elephants stroll trunk-to-trunk beside me. But there was one moment unlike the others. The day started with us floating over the Masai Mara in a hot air balloon at daybreak. By afternoon, we were greeting the children of Mukuru—the second largest slum in Nairobi. May not sound very romantic, but it turned out to be the most rewarding moment of our trip, one that helped strengthen and enrich our relationship.
Merci, a recipient of Micato’s efforts and now a Micato ambassador, greeted us at the airport. At 23, she is now a university student, a far cry from her childhood raising four siblings in Mukuru after her mother passed. Her success story is one of many through this program, and I’m thankful to have had her with us. I felt overwhelmed as our Land Cruiser turned into Mukuru. Men, women, and children sloshed in rubber boots through sewage and filth. I wanted to reach for Merci’s hand for comfort. On the other side of the window, a young girl smiled warmly and said, “How are you?” I cracked a smile and waved. I was told our presence there represents hope.
The Harambee Community Center—built by Micato and its nonprofit arm, AmericaShare—is an oasis of hope in the middle of Mukuru. Lorna MacLeod, Executive Director of AmericaShare says, “I fell in love with Mukuru.” The company bases their efforts solely on this community. “I don’t believe in one-off efforts—giving money, getting press, and then leaving,” she adds. “All [these kids] need is support and to stay by them and watch them grow up. I didn’t want to spread our efforts so thin and not leave an impact. I wanted to see them graduate college.”
Walking through Harambee, children giggled and smiled as they read in the library, worked on computers in the resource center, and played on green grass. In the corner sits a newly created fresh water borehole for the community. All of this was made possible by AmericaShare—and by visits like ours.
In 2008, MacLeod started Huru International to address the problem of Kenyan girls missing school during their period because they couldn’t afford sanitary pads. Made on-site at Harambee, Huru kits include reusable sanitary pads, underwear, detergent, and education focused on HIV prevention and safe sex. Since 2008, they’ve provided kits to more than 100,000 girls. We distributed 20 kits to shy girls that curtsied and smiled as I handed them their kit—a little piece of my heart included with each one.
Back in the comforts of the luxurious Fairmont Norfolk, we closed the night with Jane and Felix Pinto, founders of Micato (a treat provided to all guests of Micato). Through their stories, I realized that philanthropy is part of Micato’s DNA. I lay down and kissed my husband goodnight, thankful for all that we had experienced and for how it will forever shape our experiences together in the future.
Want to discover more ways you can give back while traveling in Africa? Check out:
- How You Can Learn French While Volunteering in Africa
- Six People Making Positive Changes in Africa
- Edge of Africa’s Community Work in South Africa
By Sarah Pew for PeterGreenberg.com